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A whistle-blower at Alaska Airlines has filed a $20 million lawsuit accusing the carrier of defamation for allegedly portraying him as incompetent on its Web site.

The lawsuit was filed in California's Alameda County Superior Court by John Liotine, a lead mechanic at the company's Oakland, Calif., maintenance facility.

Liotine complained to the Federal Aviation Administration in late 1998 that the Seattle-based airline faked maintenance records. His claims triggered a criminal probe that now includes the Jan. 31 crash of Alaska Flight 261, which killed 88 people when it crashed off the California coast.

Liotine became a figure in the investigation into the Jan. 31 crash when it was revealed that in 1997 he had recommended replacing the plane's jackscrew and gimbal nut, which control the up-and-down movement of the horizontal stabilizer -- a part suspected of causing the crash.

The lawsuit contends Alaska libeled Liotine by saying on its Web site that his call for replacing the parts was incorrect. The statement implied Liotine was incompetent, the suit says.

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